Friday, January 30, 2009

The problem with photography is that a shoot is always out of reach. It always boils down to equipment, time, or access to a particular spot to capture a moment. The latter (time and access) are often out of the range of your control as a photographer. You are largely influenced by external factors that give (or takeaway) the time you need and the access you require in order to make a particular shoot. It's difficult to influence those 2 components because they are usually out of your control.

Fortunately Julie has not placed any constraints on my time and has deeply encouraged me to pursue this creative thread. And also thanks to the DC Sports Box I've been able to gain the access I need to capture some of those compelling moments in time. I'm very fortunate that both of those external forces have lined up in my favor. I'm very grateful to both Julie and Al for making my photography possible.

The one variable over which a photographer has complete control is their equipment. Even then there are some external forces at play because equipment is quite expensive. Every photographer has to make a choice when they swipe their debit card, hand over their cash, or run their credit card through the machine. You choose what lenses and body you'll buy and you have to live with those choices.

I've gone through a couple of spending cycles where I have purchased various lenses and bodies, then sold them, and then purchased higher end lenses and bodies. I lost money in the process but through it I learned more about the economics of the photography business and I learned a lot about my own personal commitment to this creative art. 3 years ago I didn't know if this curiousity would turn into the passion it has become and I spent conservatively on lower end bodies and glass. All the while my interest grew and I felt restricted by the capabilities of the equipment I purchased.

With enormous support from Julie I purchased 2 professional bodies and a variety of lenses all at f/2.8 apertures. The purchases were a stretch but since then I have never felt constrained by my equipment. With Julie's support I eliminated the 1 item over which I had control in my photographic growth: equipment.

Recently my interests have expanded into flash photography and I've expanded my equipment inventory to include some pocket wizards and a mounting bracket from Manfrotto. The costs really start to pile up due to an aggregate effect but it still pales in comparison to purchasing lenses. A used MultiMax Pocket Wizard will run you $230 on, and a Manfrotto 2929 bracket can be had for $100 on Lastly, the super clamp is < $50 on Adorama. The prices are reasonable.

These items open up a whole new approach to photography.

After purchasing the clamp, bracket, and pocket wizards I worked with the Maryland team photographer to arrange a remote setup on the supports for the backboard during a women's game. He was happy to assist and after mounting my camera myself he jumped up on the supports and locked it down tightly. The Manfrotto 2929 support bracket has several different pivot points that allows a lot of flexibility. As my D3 camera and 14-24mm lens dangled there precipitously close to the backboard Greg laughed and asked me if I was nervous. His query made me laugh because I wasn't nervous in the slightest - I had full confidence in the support bracket, clamp, and in Greg. It still made me laugh though - I've been in a lot more precarious scenarios but I rarely am nervous.

Prior to the event Greg informed me that I would need a secondary support strap that would save my camera in the event of a collision with an athlete. I went to Home Depot and spent a considerable amount of time looking through the hardware section for a solution. After much search I settled on a 3/16th" braided steel wire with a plastic sheeth along with a 1/8" chain repair kit and a 180 degree loop coupling. I used a copper pipe tool to unsheath approximately 4 inches of plastic from the cable (I had to cut it in roughly 1/2 inch segments and use pliers to pull it off). It took about 30 minutes to make the cable but in the end it worked out perfectly - the 1/8" chain repair fit perfectly into the metal strap interface of the camera body.

I had a lot of difficulty negotiating the firing of my local Pocket Wizard. In the days leading up to the game I focused on the engineering aspects of mounting my camera as well as the electronic details of configuring the Pocket Wizard transmitter and receiver. I didn't give much thought towards the practical matter of: how am I going to hold my camera and lens as well as fire my pocket wizard at the same time? The pocket wizard can sit on top of the hot shoe and will transmit whenever the shutter is closed. I used that method for awhile but realized I was wasting shutter firings a lot. There were lots of times where I'd shoot through the 300mm lens but the subjects were not under the basket (thus wasting the shutter on the remote). Other times I'd shoot under the basket using the 300mm knowing I was blocked but relying on the remote to capture. It was clearly suboptimal.

In the future I'm going to give more thought towards how to improve firing of my remote camera. A lot of other photographers use gaffer's tape to secure the Pocket Wizard to a monopod that they use. They then rest one hand on the shutter release and body while their other hand grips the monopod and pocket wizard. I prefer to hand-hold my 300mm when shooting the opposite side of the court (which requires two hands). Either way something would have to change - either I have to switch to a monopod and give up flexibility or I have to continue to hand-hold and rely on a mouth-based trigger or some other mechanism to fire the remote. I'm sure I'll figure it out.

Post-processing took a LOT longer than usual because tonight I ended up with over 1100 shots from the game. I deleted a LOT of them because they were blank shots under the basket triggered off my firing of the shutter when looking through the 300mm at something that happened at midcourt. None-the-less, it was good to learn about all this stuff.

I've been thinking a lot lately about where I can place remotes for Maryland Olympic Sports this spring and the mental exercise has me tingling with excitement. What kinds of structures can I build and maybe place in the back of a soccer, field hockey, or lacrosse net to protect a remote? Can I attach a remote to a post high above the goal and grab that perfect shot? The possibilities are truly endless and the potential keeps me up at night thinking about what great angles I can shoot.

Please go cruise over to the DC Sports Box and read about Maryland's win over North Carolina and view my photo gallery.


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